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Babà Napoletana Recipe | How to Make Neapolitan Rum Babà Pastries

If you walk through the streets of Naples, you will be greeted by the sight of incredible pastries everywhere: crispy sfogliatelle, colorful cakes, and decorated cookies of all shapes and sizes. There’s one ever-present pastry, though, that looks so plain and boring that you might never be tempted to try it. That would be a mistake.

Babà Napoletana Recipe | How to Make Neapolitan Rum Babà Pastries

Neapolitan Babà are simple treats that come in all sizes but almost always look like a doughy mushroom. Their plain appearance obscures the fact that they are completely, utterly soaked in a liquid, rum-flavored syrup. The syrup is used to preserve and flavor the babà, and whenever you buy one the cashier will squirt some extra on, just to be safe.

While most doughs would simply dissolve into mush, these unique pastries hold up to the liquid and retain a perfectly soft and chewy texture no matter how saturated they are. This is definitely a recipe for patient cooks as the extraordinary dough takes time (and a stand mixer) to make, but it’s worth trying at least once just to marvel at the seemingly impossible quality of rum babà.

A Note on Shape and Size

We recommend using a silicone babà mold, preferably in the 3 ounce capacity range. That being said, babà can be made in just about any shape or size, provided you follow the simple guideline to fill each mold halfway with raw dough. You can use cupcake molds, for instance.

Try to keep the size within reason so as not to alter the cook time or temperature dramatically. We also recommend sticking with non-stick cookware, for obvious reasons.

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Makes: About 24 babà

Cook Time: 5 to 6 hours

For the dough, you will need:

  • 2 cups (250 g) high protein all-purpose flour (14-15% protein content)

  • 5 tablespoons (75 g) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • ⅛ cup (25 g) granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt

  • 1 teaspoon (4 g) active dry yeast

  • 5 large eggs

  • Vegetable oil for greasing (you can substitute with butter but the former is a little easier)

For the syrup, you will need:

  • 4 ¼ cups (1 L) water

  • 2 ½ cups (500 g) granulated sugar

  • ½ orange peel

  • ½ lemon peel

  • 1 ¼ cups (300 ml) spiced rum

For the optional topping, you’ll need:

  • ¾ cup (200 g) apricot marmalade

Start by making the dough. Place the flour, butter, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using a medium/low speed and a dough hook, mix the ingredients until the butter is roughly incorporated into the flour, then add two eggs. At any time during the dough mixing process, feel free to stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

Continue to mix the dough until the eggs are well-incorporated and the dough solidifies and clings to the dough hook without sticking to the bowl. You can gradually increase the speed of the mixer to medium or medium/high as the egg incorporates. When the dough solidifies, add another egg and repeat to mix it in.

Continue this process of mixing the dough until it clings to the hook, then adding one more egg before continuing to mix, until all five eggs are incorporated. Note that each egg will take an increasingly longer time to incorporate and the entire process can take hours (about 2, but results will vary). The final result should be a soft, highly elastic dough.

Transfer the finished dough into a large, clean bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for 45 minutes.

Grease the insides of your babà molds (you’ll need about 24 cups if using 3 ounce capacity molds) with vegetable oil or butter. Rub some oil or butter into your hands to prevent sticking. Tear off small pieces of dough (they should be enough to fill each babà cup halfway), roll them into smooth balls, and place into the bottom of each mold cup.

Let the babà rise at room temperature until the top of the dough reaches the top of the cups—about one hour, depending on the temperature. Preheat the oven to 355°F (180°C) and bake the babà for 15 minutes. After baking, carefully pull one or two out and check the color of the sides. They should be golden; if they’re still a little pale simply bake them for a few more minutes.

Remove the baked babà from the molds and let them cool to room temperature while you prepare the syrup.

In a large saucepan, combine the water, sugar and citrus peels and bring to a boil over medium/high heat, stirring often to dissolve the syrup. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum. Let the syrup cool until it is warm but cool enough that it can be touched.

We recommend using food-grade plastic gloves for the soaking step. Transfer the syrup into a large mixing bowl and drop as many babà as will comfortably fit into the bowl. Press them down into the syrup and let them thoroughly soak. As the dough softens, you can begin to gently squeeze them like a sponge to soak up as much syrup as possible. This can’t be stressed enough: you can’t over-soak babà but you can certainly under-soak them. They should be completely saturated.

Place the soaked babà on a platter, tray, or in a sealable container for longer storage. For a finishing touch, melt some apricot marmalade in a small pot and brush it on the rounded tops as a glaze.

Reserve the leftover syrup. The babà can be stored, covered, for about a week at room temperature provided you periodically drizzle them with more syrup. Before serving, liberally drizzle them with extra syrup. If the juice doesn’t run down your arm when you take a bite, you need more!

Buon appetito!

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Edward Hooper
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Can I use a different type of flour if I can't find high protein all-purpose flour? How will it affect the dough?

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